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How to handle emotional youth athletes

"How to handle emotional youth athletes pre, during, and post-game? I coach youth basketball, and a few 10/11 year old boys continue to struggle with this and despite our efforts to get them back on track, they continue to spiral downwards. I am also concerned that these in-game meltdowns will lead to them to eventually not enjoy the game and eventually decide to give up despite the talent that they have. I know there isn't a one size fits all approach, and would welcome additional feedback from the PCA community."

PCA Response By David Jacobson, PCA Trainer & Senior Marketing Communications and Content Manager

You mention you’ve seen some of our past suggestions on how to handle “meltdowns” and I want to make sure you have access to these that I consider our best, as they are now organized within our website of free resources at www.PCADevZone.org:

Beyond the content of those articles, I’d emphasize that it is critically important that ALL the coaches and parents and players are on the same page when it comes to positive responses to negative outcomes. It takes just one negative gesture, one under-the-breath comment, one non-supportive car ride home, to undermine kids’ belief that mistakes are OK and part of a learning process. Kids even will pick up on a half-hearted, “That’s OK, we’ll get ‘em next time.”

At the same time you are exhibiting such patience, you also must exhibit zero tolerance for tantrums. When you see one, remove the player from the game at the first sensible moment (even if it costs you a timeout), have an assistant coach manage game action, and you take the player off to the side and explain calmly that he cannot contribute to the team in his current state, and that maybe you can put him back in after you sense he has calmed down.

Do not waver even if it costs you wins. Players will get the message that tantrums do not gain them anything, and they will stop.

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